Fast food workers in over a 100 cities around the country went on strike today to protest what they describe as unlivable wages and a pattern of economic injustice by their corporate paymasters. The fast food employees are joined by a coalition of labor organizers and supporters who are seeking to have the federal minimum wage raised to $15 per hour.
From McDonalds to Taco Bell, employees took to the streets with posters and banners, chanting their ire at waiting video cameras. The scenes were the same in New York City and Los Angeles, in Charleston and Pittsburgh, sidewalks crowded with workers standing shoulder-to-shoulder and raising their voices in unity against practices they describe as economic tyranny.
They beat drums and chanted slogans like “We can’t survive on $7.25” and “Better Pay, Better LA.” The protests come right at the start of the holiday shopping season, and on the heels of the Black Friday protests at Wal-Mart, when employees of America’s largest employer went on strike with a similar list of grievances.
Striking fast food employees also called for better working conditions, the right to unionize, and an end to retaliatory tactics they say are aimed at those who stand up to corporate employers.
The “Fight for 15” campaign, as it has come to be called in some circles, is organized by a loose-knit group led mostly by the SEIU, prompting critics to refer to it as “outside agitation.” Other critics of the campaign say that the majority of minimum-wage workers are teenagers working their first jobs, and that the jobs aren’t intended to be permanent, full-time employment.
Not so, say organizers. Many of the people who to spoke to the media around the country are themselves employees, and they are demanding that their concerns be voiced.
“What people don’t realize is that people working for minimum wage are not just teens for the most part,” said Kyndall Mason of Pittsburgh. “A lot of them are adults with children, some of them are veterans.”
Proponents of raising the minimum wage argue that it would beneficial not only to individual employees and their families, but to their immediate communities and the economy as a whole. The current federal statuatory wage is $7.25 an hour, which works out to about $15,000 per year for a full-time employee.
The federal poverty line for a family of two is $15,510 per year, and $23,550 for a family of four.
The President has come out on the side of raising the federal minimum to $9 an hour, calling the growing economic inequality in America “the defining challenge of our time.”
In a speech delivered in Anacostia, an economically depressed neighborhood in Washington, DC on Wednesday, the President indicated he would support a Senate bill to increase minimum pay for fast food workers and millions of others.
The President described fast food workers, as well as nurses and retail associates who earn minimum-level wages as “people who work their tail off and are still living at or barely above poverty.” Critics argue that the protests are organized by liberal labor leaders and that raising the minimum wage will negatively affect hiring over the long-term.
By Mark Clarke